John J. Johnson was appointed executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights on September 1, 2007. He has been an avid supporter of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights since its inception and assisted with its expansion both as a volunteer and as an employee. In 1977, as the Commission’s Director of Community Services, he worked vigorously helping to form many local human rights commissions throughout Kentucky.
Born in Louisville, Ky. in 1945, John J. Johnson was raised in Franklin, Ky. He joined the Franklin-Simpson County NAACP and in 1964 became one of the youngest presidents of any adult NAACP branch in the nation. He was later elected president of the Kentucky Conference of NAACP Branches and held that position for fourteen years. During his tenure, he increased the number of local units from four, to more than forty, in Kentucky.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, he served in many capacities including as the Associate Director of the Louisville and Jefferson County Human Relations Commission and as Executive Director of the Louisville/Jefferson County Community Action Agency.
As state president, he maintained a sustained effort to challenge the public and private sectors on issues as diverse as support for minority business development; divestment of Kentucky’s interest in South Africa; desegregation of institutions of higher learning; integration of the state police force; and lobbying Kentucky’s U.S. congressional delegation on civil rights legislation. He lobbied more than three years and successfully brought the 1979 NAACP’s National Convention to Kentucky for the first and only time in the organization’s 100-year history.
From leading an effort to integrate the segregated swimming pool in his hometown of Franklin, to serving as an independent observer during Zimbabwe’s contentious 2002 presidential election, Johnson has developed an international reputation for his leadership in civil rights work in volunteer and official roles.
In 1986, he joined the national staff of the NAACP based in Baltimore, Md., where he was ultimately appointed as the Chief of Executive Operations, overseeing the executive office of the President and CEO, until his departure in 2006. Johnson coordinated a wide range of national programs during his years with the NAACP including Armed Services & Veterans Affairs, Economic Development, Financial Empowerment and Initiative, Labor, Rural Development Outreach, Voter Empowerment, and Youth Entrepreneurial.
As Chief Programs Officer, he orchestrated the largest ever NAACP nationwide voter empowerment campaign, which resulted in registering over 455,000 new voters, the highest increase in African American voter registration in the association’s history. Many credit this voter empowerment program with helping to lay the foundation for the election of the first African American president.
Internationally, he organized a trip to East Germany in 1992 where he led the NAACP delegation to hold hearings on alleged discrimination against African American military workers. In 1999, Johnson returned to Germany at the United States Army's behest to take part in the ceremony of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 70th birthday. As part of the Freedom House Citizens Exchange Program, Johnson visited East Africa to help promote global democracy. In 2002, during Zimbabwe's Presidential Election, Johnson's NAACP delegation was the only American organization invited to work as independent observers.
Johnson has coordinated hundreds of human rights demonstrations throughout the nation. A few include:
- A demonstration opposing the beating of Rodney King in Sacramento, Calif.
- Hearings and demonstrations opposing voter suppression, resulting from the 2000 Presidential Election, in Tallahassee, Fla.
- Campaigns opposing the confederate flag in South Carolina
- Protests opposing apartheid in South Africa and held outside the U.S. White House.
- Marches held at the U.S. Supreme Court urging support for school integration and minority set-asides.
- Demonstrations held at the U.S. Capitol for civil rights causes.
Johnson feels blessed to have had the opportunity to serve in many capacities in the human rights movement. He recalls most vividly the success of:
- Thwarting the notorious former sheriff of Philadelphia, Neshoba County, Miss., (where civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Cheney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 1964) from becoming chief of police in Franklin, Ky.
- Initiating the NAACP diversity job fairs. These events annually attracted more than 150 employers and thousands of job seekers in major cities throughout the U.S.;
- Partnering with NASA to fund and operate 185 student members Saturday’s Scholars’ Program; and,
- Coordinating the first phase of Rosa Parks’ funeral service, in Montgomery Ala., comprised of more than 1,200 mourners and 2,000 service attendees.
Johnson has been a dedicated activist for almost six decades and has received hundreds of awards and honors for his civil rights work throughout the nation. As a result of his success, in 1993, a street in his hometown of Franklin was named John J. Johnson Avenue in his honor.
Included among the many awards and honors received are: the Distinguished Service Award from Kentucky State University, the Kentucky SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) Annual Civil Rights Leadership Award, the Medgar W. Evers Award for Outstanding Service, Sincere Devotion and Commitment to the NAACP.
Johnson was the 2009 recipient of the Kentucky Governor’s Charles Anderson Laurate Award. The award is sponsored by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet Office of Diversity and Equality and is given for a lifetime contributions in support of the protected classes of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, gender, and age.
In 2005, Johnson was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
In September 2005, Johnson was added to the series of The History Makers, an internationally recognized archive created to preserve, develop and provide easy access to an electronic collection of thousands of notable African American video oral histories. He is annually featured in Who’s Who in Black Louisville. This publishing company is the nation’s largest African American directory publisher. The company annually recognizes and publicizes the achievements of African Americans throughout the nation.
In 2016, he was inducted into the Franklin/Simpson High School Hall of Fame.
Past affiliations include serving as an elected member and a vice president of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors, member of the National Board of Directors of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Board of Directors of the National Committee on Pay Equity, and the National Board of Directors of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. He was appointed by President William J. Clinton as a member of the Council on the Employment of People with Disabilities.
He currently chairs the Advisory Board of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Inc., in Baltimore, Md. He serves as a member of the Committee on Equal Opportunity on the Kentucky Council of Postsecondary Education, the Kentucky Housing Corporation’s Policy Advisory Committee, the Governor’s Ambassador Awards Committee, and the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Center of African American Heritage.
Johnson holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Sojourner Douglas College in Baltimore, Md., and an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities and Community Development from Simmons University in Louisville, Ky. He and his wife Courtrina reside in Prospect, Ky., just outside of Louisville.